God-saves or do-it-my-way? God-salvation or self-salvation, which will it be? Perhaps we might say “grace” or “pay-your-own-way?” How is there even a choice? Christ or Muhammad? Son of God or son of Quraysh?
The Bible teaches that sin is universal (Isaiah 53:6). All sin, and everyone falls short of God’s standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23). Mankind’s sinfulness acts as a separator between man and God (Isaiah 59:2), a barrier that removes humanity from God, and renders relationship with holy God, impossible. Hence, humanity is “out-of-relationship” with God, and in need of being reconciled. Atonement is the doctrine whereby God and mankind are made “at-one-ment,” that is, God and mankind are reconciled, and the nature of this new reconciled relationship is eternal and without end.
Since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness, humanity cannot make amends for acts of sinfulness, nor can humanity’s righteous acts “offset” unrighteous acts. Isaiah 64:6 puts it this way: “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy garments.” Man’s best efforts at righteousness are likened to filthy rags. How then can humanity ever make amends for unrighteous acts if our righteous acts are likened to filthy rags? Likewise, how then can “filthy rags” offset unrighteous acts? Quite the opposite occurs. Mankind is dismally separated from God and can do nothing to make things right. It is as if humankind has an incurable illness; an illness that will keep him eternally separated from a holy God.
Because of man’s condition, God acts to reconcile mankind to Himself. He does so by providing the means whereby mankind’s unrighteousness is made righteous. God provides a savior who is held accountable for the sins of humankind. The savior cannot be another man because a man has fallen short of God’s standard. A sinner cannot make atonement for even his own sins (Romans 3:23), much less those of another sinner. The savior must be perfect, without sin, or the savior, himself, will fall short of God’s standard.
God has made Himself responsible for the out-of-balance relationship that exists between God and mankind. Mankind’s sin may be the cause of the relationship being out-of-balance; but it is God who takes it upon Himself to do something about mankind’s problem. In Luke 2:30, Simeon, upon seeing the newborn Christ states, “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace according to thy word; for my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the presence of all thy peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people, Israel.” Simeon’s words are important: he states, “my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared.” Salvation is God’s responsibility because God has made Himself responsible for it; and, He has “prepared” the means whereby humankind will be reconciled to Himself. Jesus Christ is His “preparation.”
In Genesis 22, Abraham and Isaac are making their last steps to Mount Moriah where Abraham, in obedience to the command of God, will sacrifice his only son, Isaac, on an altar of sacrifice. Isaac is unaware of what God has commanded his father to do. He asks his father, “We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb? (Genesis 22:7) Abraham replies, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8). And so God does. An obedient Abraham is stopped from sacrificing his son by a last second cry by God; and a lamb is caught in the thicket by its horns. This lamb becomes the sacrificial lamb that takes Isaac’s place on the altar.
By God’s design, Jesus Christ is humanity’s sacrificial lamb who “takes the place” of humankind in the same way that the lamb caught in the thicket took the place of Isaac. Jesus satisfies God’s requirements unlike any other human being could: Jesus is without sin, and therefore, does not fall short of God’s standard. Hebrews 4:15 states, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus is not only without sin, He is also God’s Son who exists eternally to intercede for humankind before the Father (Hebrews 7:25-28). God has provided the perfect and pure Lamb, without sin, so that He can atone, make amends, for the sins of mankind that separate man from God. The Apostle Paul sums up God’s plan to “right” this out-of-balance relationship when he states in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation…. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, has become our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. God’s salvation, “prepared” by Him, transfers mankind’s sin to His Son, and transfers His Son’s righteousness to mankind. The out-of-balance relationship has been restored, and mankind and God are reconciled. The righteous, perfect, Son of God has atoned for mankind’s sins by His death on the cross. He has made amends even for our “filthy rags” by serving our sentence of death and giving us His righteousness. Romans 6:23 states, “The wages of sin is death…” Christ has “paid our wage” for us, and once it is paid, nothing more is owed (Colossians 2:14). Mankind is now reconciled to God, eternally, not by man’s efforts but by God’s. Humanity must need receive the gift of God. (John 1:12-14; 3:16). Christ becomes our Savior only by God’s gracious gift; a gift that is free to us but costly to God (Romans 6:23). A gift that must be opened by faith in order to be appropriated by man unto himself (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation is assured to the believer because salvation is God’s work, not man’s, and what God has done cannot be undone (Luke 2:30).
In Islam (as in Christianity), each person is held accountable for their sins; and, in Islam, sins are distinguished between major and minor sins (major sins are referred to as “enormities”). Qur’an 4:31 states, “If, of the things that have been forbidden to you, you stay away from the major ones, We shall forgive you your [minor] sins.” Examples of major sins are setting up “peers” to God (shirk), murder (Qur’an 25.69), and illicit sex (Qur’an 5:32). The Qur’an categorically states that the most heinous sin in Islam is “associating peers” with God (“shirk”). This sin will not be forgiven by Allah, resulting in eternal damnation. Qur’an 5:72 states, “Those who say, ‘God is the Messiah, son of Mary,’ have defied God. . . If anyone associates others with God, God will forbid him from the Garden, and Hell will be his home. No one will help such evildoers.” Islam unequivocally considers the “Trinity” (Christian view of God, the Father; Jesus, the Son; and the Holy Spirit, as three personalities of one God) as “shirk,” the unforgivable and worst of sins resulting in damnation. The Qur’an 4:171 states, “People of the Book [Jews and Christians], do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’—stop [this], that is better for you—God is only one God, He is far above having a son, ….” The Qur’an also specifically rejects Jesus as the Son of God: Qur’an 19:34-35, “[This is] a statement of the Truth about which they are in doubt: it would not befit God to have a child. He is far above that: when He decrees something, He says only, ‘Be,’ and it is.”
Unlike Christianity’s view of sin, in Islam, sin is not a condition that mankind can be “cured” of by his own efforts. Sin is, first of all, “individual” in nature; and, to hold someone accountable for sins he or she did not commit is unjust and wrong. Hence, atonement in Islam is only possible when the individual makes amends for his own sins through repentance and penance (Qur’an 2:160). A man may “fall short” of Allah’s standards, but it is because he has failed to do good deeds; or, the good deeds that he has done are diminished by his bad deeds and rendered, out-of-balance. A Muslim’s good deeds are offset by his bad deeds (Qur’an 11.111). The “Reliance of the Traveller” is the classic manual of Islamic Sacred Law. In Book V, 2.3 it states,
It is obligatory to believe in the scale; which consists of two scalepans and a balance indicator between them, and is as great in size as the thickness of the heavens and earth. It weighs a servant’s deeds through the power of Allah Most High, and the weights placed on it are as fine as an atom or mustard seed, that justice may be perfectly done. The pages recording one’s good deeds will be placed in a form pleasing to behold on the side of the scale of Light, weighing it down according to their rank with Allah, through His generosity, while the pages recording one’s bad deeds will be placed in an ugly form on the side of Darkness, diminishing the weight of the opposite side through Allah’s justice.” (p. 823).1
In Islam, Hell is not eternal (for Muslims). Reliance of the Traveller, Book V, 2.7 states, “It is obligatory to hold that true believers in the oneness of Allah . . . will be taken out of hell after having paid for their sins, through the generosity of Allah Mighty and Majestic. No one who is a true monotheist will abide in the fire forever.” (p 824) Wow! How generous Allah is. He allows Muslims to be taken out of Hell after they have paid the price. Suffering offsets the net negative of good versus bad. Well, if punishment offsets the crime (like our earthly justice system), why is it generous of Allah to let someone out of Hell after he has paid the price for his bad deeds? Seems like you get what you pay for, to me.
In Islam, repentance is necessary for forgiveness to be granted by Allah. “According to one ḥadīth, a person who repents of his sins becomes like one who has never committed any sins; . . . Repentance involves: “the penitent be convinced that a sin did occur, show remorse, and resolve to abstain in the future.”2). The Qur’an, in fact, states, for the person who “repents, attains to faith and does righteous deeds, God will change the evil … into good.” (Qur’an 25:70). In Islam, then, repentance is the “antithesis of the crucifixion and its accompanying salvation.” (Quoting, Moosa, Ebrahim . “Repentance.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0677 (accessed 01-Jan-2012)).
In Islam nothing is more important than one’s belief in the oneness of Allah and Muhammad as the prophet of Allah. Reliance of the Traveller Book V, 2.0 states,
Allah Most High sent Muhammad …., the Qurayshite unlettered prophet, to deliver his inspired message to the entire world, Arabs and non-Arabs, jinn and mankind, superseding and abrogating all previous religious systems with the Prophet’s Sacred Law, except for the provisions of them that the new revelation explicitly reconfirmed. Allah has favored him [Muhammad] above all the other prophets and made him the highest of mankind, rejecting anyone’s attesting to the divine oneness by saying, “There is no god but Allah,” unless they also attest to the Prophet by saying “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” He has obliged men and jinn to believe everything the Prophet…. has informed us concerning this world and the next, and does not accept anyone’s faith unless they believe in what he has told us will happen after death. (p 822).
In Islam, the final reckoning is a matter for only Allah to decide. If he wills paradise, it is done. If he wills Hell, it is done. Reliance of the Traveller, Book V, 2.6 states,
It is obligatory to believe in the Final Reckoning and the disparity in the way various people are dealt with therein, some made to answer, others pardoned, and some admitted to paradise without reckoning, being the intimate of Allah (muqarrabun). Allah Most High shall ask whomever He wills of the prophets if they have conveyed their message, ask unbelievers why they denied the messengers, ask those of reprehensible innovation (bid’a) about the sunna, and ask Muslims about their works. (p. 824).
Allah not only wills paradise or hell for everyone, he wills everything. Qur’an 5:18, “The Jews and the Christians say, ‘We are the children of God and His beloved ones.’ Say, ‘Then why does He punish you for your sins? You are merely human beings, part of His creation: He forgives whoever He will and punishes whoever He will.”
So then, paradise is never guaranteed to a Muslim. It is contingent at all times upon Allah’s will. A Muslim never knows whether his good deeds outweigh his bad, or whether the “scale” will be tipped in his favor. Paradise, then, is never assured to a Muslim. Allah decides, regardless; and, if Hell is his decision, to Hell he will go. His only recourse: if he is truly Muslim (believes in the Oneness of Allah and Muhammad as His prophet), then he will remain in Hell until Allah decides his time is up.
What does a Muslim do if Allah is having a “bad day”?
In Christianity, Christians are not left to the capriciousness of God. There is no disparity in treatment among followers, no favorites. As someone has put it, the ground at the foot of the cross is level. Christians are not even dependent upon God’s mercy, or His compassion, although both mercy and compassion are His attributes. To the believer in Jesus Christ, all sins have been atoned for by Christ as Savior (Romans 8:1). They are saved because Jesus has borne their iniquities, carried their sins to the cross, and eternal salvation is given by God’s grace and received through one’s faith (Isaiah 53:4-5; John 1:12-13, 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-10). Jesus Christ is the door through which believers must walk; but they do so in the certainty that the door will be opened, and will remain open, for eternity (John 10:3, 9). Salvation is God’s invention, God’s responsibility, and God’s preparation. Mankind is a recipient of God’s action; and he can never earn what God has already bought and paid for.
Which God would you want to trust in? Which God would you want to stand before on judgment day? The God who has taken personal responsibility for mankind’s unrighteous acts, and has executed justice upon the Lamb that He, Himself, has provided? Or the Allah that requires mankind to not only believe in Him and His messenger, but also, to balance the “scale” on the side of righteousness? And, perhaps, if Allah wills it, Allah will open the door to Paradise.
Jesus come quickly.
This is post is an update of one first posted on January 3, 2012.
- It seems that only the “net” matters [↩]
- Quoting, Moosa, Ebrahim. “Repentance.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0677 (accessed 01-Jan-2012 [↩]